Why this story matters:
In 2011, in the central German town of Jena, a woman turned herself into the police and was subsequently arrested. She turned out to be Beate Zschäpe, a member and co-founder of the National-Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terrorist group.
In between 1998 and 2007, the NSU murdered nine people of Turkish and Greek origin (along with a German policewoman), planted bombs in different German cities -- two of which exploded and injured 20 people -- and carried out fifteen robberies.
The NSU ended in November 2011, when the group's two core members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, killed themselves after robbing a bank. On the same day, the flat where the two men lived with Zschäpe was set on fire, and several days later Zschäpe turned herself in. The investigation went on for two years, and the court process lasted five years, during which time she remained silent. Now, she has distanced herself from her two dead companions and denied any involvement in the murders.
Since the beginning, the "NSU" trial has attracted much attention in Germany and nearly led to a ban of the far-right party NPD (German National-Democratic Party). The NSU was confirmed to have personal connections with nine of its members, and was clearly under its ideological influence. In the end, the German government decided not to ban the party since the links were not sufficient for such a decision.
The existence of the Neo-Nazi scene in Germany is always a controversial topic -- while German law prohibits specific Nazi symbols, such as swastikas, many ways remain for Neo-Nazis to gather and express their views without breaking the law.
The argument for such freedom is that it is safer to allow them to do so, rather than push them deeper underground, out of sight of the authorities. But every episode of racially-motivated violence puts this to question.
Details from the story:
- The NSU has existed since 1998 and committed 10 murders and 2 bombings
- They robbed banks and shops to finance their activities
- They were active members of the Neo-Nazi scene for years and took part in such events as KKK cross burnings
- In her statement yesterday, Beate Zschäpe distanced herself from the Neo-Nazi scene, saying that she no longer judges people by their origins or political beliefs, but solely by their deeds.
- She did not, however, acknowledge her guilt or even knowledge of the murders.
- The prosecutors do not believe her claims, they argue that as one of the core members of the NSU, Zschäpe played an active role in planning the attacks, which makes her an accomplice.
- The prosecution demands a life imprisonment for Zschäpe -- the highest sentence German law allows.
- Four more men are accused alongside Zschäpe for having supported the NSU and are also facing prison sentences of five to twelve years. Two of them have apologized to the victims' families.
- The court will announce its verdict at its next session on July 11.
- BR (Bavarian Radio) has collected all the information relevant to the NSU trial, including a selection of documents, on a special page.